My Father In His Suitcase: In Search Of E.J.H. Corner, The Relentless Botanist

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John K. Corner
2013. Landmark Books Pte Ltd
Soft cover. 21.5cm x 13.4cm, 431 pages
ISBN No: 9789814189477


John (Kay) Corner left home in 1960, aged 19. He would never see his father, E. J. H. Corner, again.

Edred John Henry Corner was one of the most colourful and productive biologists and mycologists of the 20th century. His career began in 1929 as Assistant Director of the Straits Settlements Singapore Botanic Gardens, where he trained monkeys to collect specimens from the treetops of the rainforest, and published Wayside Trees of Malaya, a classic field guide interspersed with his delightful and idiosyncratic observations on plant life. He was key in the creation of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, a 163- hectare plot that contains more tree species than the whole of North America. When war came, he considered it his responsibility to safeguard the scientific and cultural collections of Singapore during the Japanese Occupation, but was branded by some as a collaborator. Post-war, after heading the ambitious UNESCO Hylean Amazon Project, he returned to Cambridge University and was appointed Professor of Tropical Botany in 1965. There he propounded his theory that the Durian represented an ancestral type of angiosperm tree. He was elected a Fellow of The Royal Society, where he promoted the conservation of tropical forests and led expeditions to the British Solomon Islands and Mount Kinabalu. For the latter, he proposed Kinabalu Park which led to its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

After 46 years, John Corner faces his estranged father in a suitcase marked: ‘For Kay, wherever he might be.’ The letters, pictures and other memorabilia that spill out led him to search for the father he hardly knew, resulting in an engaging and frank biography of an eminent scientist who put science above all, including his family.

Editorial Reviews of My Father in His Suitcase

“Professor Corner was ‘one of the most colourful and productive biologists and mycologists of the 20th century.’” Sir Hugh Cortazzi, The Japan Society

“Do get hold of a copy if you have the chance, and do not be put off by the omission of “and mycologist” at the end of the subtitle. It should have been there, and you will find this a book difficult to put down.” Professor Dr. David Hawksworth CBE, International Mycological Association (IMA) journal

Table of Contents


Early Life

University and Singapore Opportunity

A Corner of Singapore

The Tale of the Frock

Home Visit

Out in the Field

Wayside Trees & Botanical Monkeys

Sheila Bailey

Courtship & Marriage
Marriage Disrupted

The Note

At Work in Syonan-to

Across the Fence



To the Other Side of the World


Carrying on with UNESCO

Family Ruined

My Life at Twyford School

Divorce and Aftermath

To The Leys


Father and Son Asunder


Solomon Islands

Professor of Tropical Botany

Revisiting Wayside Trees

Out of the Corner

The Life of Ancient Trees


Weight 850 g
Dimensions 21.5 × 13.4 × 3 cm

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